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What really made me jealous were the farm kids showing livestock who got to camp out for the whole week!

By Jane Marie
 

My earliest memory of the fair is one of those stories you’re not sure if you actually remember or have been told so many times it’s written itself—pictures and all—into your brain. But in my memory I’m little, in my dad’s arms, and we’re looking at the winning, ribboned cows. Each year, we’d go to the Shiawassee County Fair in Michigan to check out the livestock before the fair’s big auction, where we’d sometimes buy our “side of beef” to fill the extra freezer in the garage. So there I am, in his arms, face to face with a giant Angus. As I’m petting him, I do a typical little kid thing and…stick my tiny hand into the cow’s nostril. The cow sneezes. Disgusting hilarity ensues. It certainly wasn’t that experience that made me fall in love with the fair, but it may have been the conciliatory funnel cakes, cotton candy and pony ride.

Getting that close to farm life is like taking a trip back in time, and it’s that transportive power of the fair that really gets me. Pie-baking contests, handmade quilts on display, prize-winning chickens: all of these a delight to behold. I see those jars of jam all in a row and I’m immediately back in Grandma Nellie’s canning cellar. A well put-together piece of carpentry—like the bookshelf my father built and brought to the fair at age 12, and that won first prize—reminds me of life on the farm. Of long summer days spent sanding wood by hand, followed of course by homemade jam sandwiches on homemade blue-ribbon bread. It’s this nostalgia that’s the driving force behind our fairs, and it’s the kids that give it heart.

I remember being one of those wildly excited kids you see at the fair. I was a pre-teen when I first had the chance to go there un-chaperoned. It was a dusty, sun-soaked day spent running from one end of the midway to the other, whispering secret crushes to boys who would ignore us girls in favor of the Smash ’Em Up Derby or the tractor pull.

What really made you jealous were the farm kids who got to show livestock and therefore were allowed to camp out—to literally live at the fair—for what one could only imagine was the best week of their lives. Sure, they had to wake up with the roosters and brush out their sheep’s wool, but there were long stretches of the card game Euchre played around coolers in the pens, and wild romantic dramas that amounted to nothing. For some, the state fair might be their first trip to The Big City, and they get to show up and be a star: the one who returns to their small town with trophies and a little cash from the highest bidder for their prime swine. Those kids are still the coolest thing about the fair.

What’s not cool: the horrifying, nauseating rides. I’d almost say we could do away with them, but over the years I’ve come to love my role as “Official Stuff Holder.” Having those ten minutes to sit on the bench, piled high with purses and diaper bags and souvenirs, allows me to stop and take in all the sights and sounds of this place that I love so much. The very worst part is leaving, but even that brings me to one final, perfect thing about the fair: It always comes back, year after year. It always comes back, and so will I.

Chevrolet is the official vehicle of the State Fair of Texas.

Jane Marie is co-editor of TheHairpin.com. She lives in Los Angeles.